Ulster will bounce back in Leinster clash after errors against classy La Rochelle, vows Bowe
A stung Tommy Bowe admitted Ulster made too many "stupid errors" during the second-half onslaught that saw them succumb to a heavy Champions Cup defeat at the hands of La Rochelle in France on Sunday.
Despite weekend results seeing them slip to third in their pool, the 33-year-old remains confident his side can go on to claim a first quarter-final place since 2014.
Playing the team who amassed more points than any other in last season's Top14, the province appeared to be handling the intimidating atmosphere of the Stade Marcel Deflandre well when matching their hosts blow for blow in the first-half, but a three point deficit quickly became 31 after the turn before Bowe himself reduced the arrears with a consolation in the closing stages.
"The relentless pressure they put us under, we just couldn't get our hands on the ball," lamented the Monaghan man after the 41-17 reverse. "Our strength is to run at teams, to take them on and play expansively but didn't get the opportunity to do that.
"We knew La Rochelle are a top, top side. They're playing some fantastic rugby and we knew it was a hostile environment.
"I think in the first-half we took it to them but in the second-half we just absorbed so much pressure, we defended, we defended and we defended.
"We didn't show how good we can be and there's a lot of stuff to work on."
The 41 points conceded was the most by an Ulster side since the visit to Toulon in the early weeks of 2015 and, despite his disappointment at the errors that allowed La Rochelle to keep sending wave after wave towards Ulster's line in the second-half, Bowe believes the side from the Bay of Biscay to be the best he has seen in some time.
"I think, yeah," replied the man who is now Europe's fourth most prolific try scorer when asked if La Rochelle had been Ulster's toughest opposition to date.
"We've watched a lot of their games and (head coach) Jono Gibbes knew exactly what we'd be coming up against - the intensity, the atmosphere.
"I've played in a lot of French stadiums, a lot of the top French teams, and I have to say La Rochelle are an exciting team. They didn't do anything over the top, they didn't have to do anything too elaborate, but they were just very, very clinical.
"They scored some great tries and credit to them. In the first-half, we went toe to toe but, when that pressure came on, they showed their class."
Joining Leinster and Saracens as the only teams with 10 points from 10 so far, it would be a huge shock to see La Rochelle miss out on a quarter-final spot and perhaps even make a serious run at the latter stages of this competition.
However, with a December double-header to come against a Harlequins side who have yet to register a single point, a maximum haul from the pre-Christmas fixtures in London in Belfast would see Les Kiss's men right back in the shake-up for a place in the last eight ahead of the final two rounds of pool action.
After a three season absence from the European season's business end, Bowe believes the side are still capable of emerging from the group.
"We were delighted with the Wasps result to start and obviously we wanted to come over here and take something from the game," he added.
"If you can pick up points away in this competition, it's crucial, especially with how tight it tends to be but we're still confident."
For now, though, matters switch back to the Guinness Pro14 and Saturday's visit of old foes Leinster.
The northern province have enjoyed a good record against their near neighbours when playing in Belfast during recent seasons, but Leo Cullen's men are on song at present having disposed of Munster, Montpellier and Glasgow over the past three weeks.
And, as Bowe notes, with Leinster in Ulster's side of the newly restructured league, a game that rarely needed any more weight attached becomes even more important.
"Against the likes of Scarlets and Leinster at home, they're crucial matches that you have to win," he said regarding Conference B's presumed heavy hitters.
"We want to take on the top teams and Leinster are one of those, they showed it against Glasgow. We look forward to those games and sometimes it's good, after a difficult game like La Rochelle, to have a game like this to look forward to, to relish.
"We'll be hurting but we have Leinster at home now and we need a big performance.
"We've a few battered and sore bodies but we'll regroup and be ready to go for Saturday."